An evidence base?

In all the discussion about bibliographic data and catalogs, and about their advantages or disadvantages when compared to other approaches, it is striking how little appeal there is to actual evidence. Evidence about value. Evidence about cost.

7 thoughts on “An evidence base?”

  1. Not just value or cost, but whether what we are doing or proposing is the best way of doing it. I wonder, for instance, how much research on how library users use and want to use catalogues went into the development of RDA. I tried to make this point on the Autocat mailing list. There is also the debate about browse searching versus keyword searching which tends to revolve around the librarian’s preferences and the technically best way of doing it if you know how the catalogue works, but not around research into how users can best and most intuitively interact with a catalogue. I’m sure library schools are actually beavering away with this kind of research.
    Having said that, I haven’t provided much evidence myself, have I?

  2. I assume there is little appeal to evidence because there is little evidence, either for or against, to appeal to. As far as I know, this has always been true of catalog code revision. There are appeals for catalog use studies to inform the debate, but that’s the beginning and end of it. When I was studying the development of AACR1–back when the card catalog was the only show in town–I was able to find only a handful of catalog use studies, none of them very well designed or useful. Plus ça change…

  3. Isn’t it most likely that the lack of research studies has to do with the origin of the online catalogs? They were primarily built on systems intended for the use of librarians and the data that librarians themselves had structured, in-put, and massaged. The data was fairly conformist in nature. Catalogs were never about satisfying the needs of untrained users lurking about in reading rooms.
    That being the case, wouldn’t the most credible research emerge from one of the two following data sources — Google Scholar and/or Worldcat? Those are systems largely used by ordinary students and researchers. That may be more reflective of actual patterns of behavior across generations and institutions. The issue would be (I imagine) whether or not Google would be willing to share that information.

  4. I find myself agreeing with your conclusion while unclear on the premise. The catalog… compared to what other approach?
    However, it’s generally safe to say that many bibliodecisions are evidence-free. Evidence often exists — but we do not use it.

  5. Libraries and librarians have a huge amount of data and they do some “research” as well. However, even when they analyze the results, they mostly do not translate the results into actions based on those results.
    Read my upcoming article in the October issue of “portal” – Evidence based library management: the leadership chellenge.

  6. K.G. Schneider: I wouldn’t say it was a question of the catalog(ue) versus any other approach but what exactly the catalogue should look like and are the things we spend time, effort, and money on providing actually useful and wanted. A couple of things that could do with looking at:
    1. Main entry. Is this actually found useful by users? Is it worth the effort? This is not a theoretical question.
    2. How do people really use subject headings and is the degree of complexity in the rules justified when users don’t know them anyway?
    3. What is the most useful layout for a catalogue record?: by fields or in a card-style block?
    4. Do we provide all the information users want?
    I could offer personal opinions on these and provide anecdotal evidence, but that isn’t really good enough. We are not providing a catalogue as an academic exercise but as a practical and usable tool.

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